What You Need to Know

What are sugar substitutes?

Sugar substitutes are chemical or plant-based substances used to sweeten or enhance the flavor of foods and drinks. You may also have heard them called “artificial sweeteners” or “non-caloric sweeteners.” They can be used as a tabletop sweetener (for example, to sweeten a glass of iced tea) or as an ingredient in processed foods and drinks.

Most sugar substitutes are many times sweeter than sugar. It takes a smaller amount of these sugar substitutes to provide the same level of sweetness. Some sugar substitutes are low in calories, while others have no calories.

Sugar substitutes are regulated as food additives by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This means that the FDA reviews scientific evidence to be sure that a sugar substitute is safe before it can be used in foods and drinks.

Why are sugar substitutes added to foods and drinks?

Sugar substitutes provide sweetness and enhance the flavor of food without adding the calories of sugar. Most of them do not raise blood sugar levels. This may be helpful if you have diabetes and have to be careful about how much sugar you consume.

Sugar substitutes may also be helpful if you are trying to control the amount of calories you consume. They are found in most of the “light,” “reduced calorie,” and “sugar-free” foods and drinks available today. Although sugar substitutes have fewer calories than sugar, it’s best to limit them and focus on healthy food choices. Fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains are the best sources of nutrition for your body.

What sugar substitutes/artificial sweeteners are approved by the FDA?

The following sugar substitutes are FDA-approved as food additives in the United States:

According to the FDA, highly purified stevia extracts called “steviol glycosides” (two brand names: Pure Via and Truvia) and monk fruit extracts (two brand names: Monk Fruit in the Raw and PureLo) are sugar substitutes that are “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). This means that qualified experts agree the available scientific evidence about these products shows they are safe for use in foods and drinks.

Sugar alcohols are another class of sweeteners that can be used as sugar substitutes. Examples include mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol. The FDA has determined that sugar alcohols are generally recognized as safe for use in foods and drinks.

  • Acesulfame K (brand names: Sunett and Sweet One)
  • Advantame
  • Aspartame (two brand names: Equal and Nutrasweet)
  • Neotame (brand name: Newtame)
  • Saccharin (two brand names: Sweet ‘N Low and Sweet Twin)
  • Sucralose (brand name: Splenda)

I’ve heard that sugar substitutes can cause cancer or other serious health problems. Is that true?

According to the National Cancer Institute, there is no evidence that the sugar substitutes approved for use in the United States cause cancer or other serious health problems. Medical research studies have shown that these sweeteners are safe for most people when used in moderation.One exception is for people who have phenylketonuria (PKU). People who have PKU cannot have the sugar substitute aspartame because they are unable to metabolize phenylalanine, which is one of its components.

How can I tell if a food or drink contains a sugar substitute?

Sugar substitutes are used in many processed foods and drinks, including baked goods, soft drinks, powdered drink mixes, candy, puddings, canned foods, jellies, and dairy products. Check the ingredient list on the Nutrition Facts Label for the names of the sugar substitutes listed above. This list gives ingredients in descending order by weight. Unless you add a sugar substitute yourself, it is often hard to know exactly how much a food or drink contains.

I’m pregnant. Are sugar substitutes/artificial sweeteners safe for me?

Based on the available scientific evidence, sugar substitutes that are FDA-approved as food additives are safe for most people when used in moderation.

 

Aspartame

What is aspartame?

Aspartame (two brand names: Equal and Nutrasweet) is a low-calorie sugar substitute. It is a combination of 2 amino acids: aspartic acid and phenylalanine. It is about 200 times sweeter than sugar.

Aspartame provides sweetness and enhances the flavor of food without adding as many calories as sugar. Unlike sugar, it does not contribute to tooth decay. It also does not raise blood sugar levels. This may be helpful if you have diabetes and have to be careful about how much sugar you consume.

What products contain aspartame?

Aspartame can be found in thousands of processed foods and drinks. Products that contain aspartame include yogurt, frozen desserts, pudding, dry dessert mixes, chewing gum, and soft drinks. It is also used as a tabletop sweetener (for example, to sweeten a glass of iced tea). Aspartame can also be found in some medicines (for example, cough drops) and vitamins.

Aspartame should not be used as a substitute for sugar when you are baking. It loses its sweet taste when it is heated.

Who should not consume aspartame?

People who have a rare condition called phenylketonuria (PKU) should not consume aspartame. This is because their bodies are unable to metabolize phenylalanine, which is one of the amino acids in aspartame.

If you are concerned that consuming aspartame is affecting your health, talk to your family doctor.

Is aspartame safe?

Aspartame is one of the most researched sugar substitutes available in the United States. More than 100 studies have examined its safety. It has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a food additive since 1981. This means that the FDA has reviewed scientific evidence to be sure that aspartame is safe for use in foods and drinks.

According to the National Cancer Institute, there is no evidence that aspartame and other sugar substitutes approved for use in the United States cause cancer or other serious health problems. Medical research studies have shown that these sweeteners are safe for most people when used in moderation.

Acesulfame K

What is acesulfame K?

Acesulfame K (brand names: Sunett and Sweet One) is a no-calorie sugar substitute that is 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is also known as acesulfame potassium or Ace-K. It is often used in combination with other sweeteners.

Acesulfame K provides sweetness and enhances the flavor of food without adding the calories of sugar. Unlike sugar, it does not contribute to tooth decay. It also does not raise blood sugar levels. This may be helpful if you have diabetes and have to be careful about how much sugar you consume.

What products contain acesulfame K?

Acesulfame K can be found in a variety of processed foods and drinks, including baked goods, candy, frozen desserts, and soft drinks. It can also be used as a tabletop sweetener (for example, to sweeten a glass of iced tea). It is used in some medicines (for example, cough drops) and in oral hygiene products (for example, toothpaste and mouthwash).

Acesulfame K can be used in cooking and baking because it does not lose its sweet taste at high temperatures. For best results, follow the package instructions for using it in your recipes.

Is acesulfame K safe?

More than 90 studies have examined the safety of acesulfame K. It has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a food additive since 1988. This means that the FDA has reviewed scientific evidence to be sure that it is safe for use in foods and drinks.

According to the National Cancer Institute, there is no evidence that acesulfame K and other sugar substitutes approved for use in the United States cause cancer or other serious health problems. Medical research studies have shown that these sweeteners are safe for most people when used in moderation.

Saccharin

What is saccharin?

Saccharin (two brand names: Sweet ‘N Low and Sweet Twin) is a low-calorie sugar substitute that was first discovered in 1879. It is 200 to 700 times sweeter than sugar, depending on how it is used. Some people may notice an aftertaste when they consume saccharin. This is often eliminated in processed foods by combining saccharin with another sugar substitute.

Saccharin provides sweetness and enhances the flavor of food without adding as many calories as sugar. Unlike sugar, it does not contribute to tooth decay. It also does not raise blood sugar levels. This may be helpful if you have diabetes and have to be careful about how much sugar you consume.

What products contain saccharin?

Saccharin is found in many processed foods and drinks, including chewing gum, canned fruit, baked goods, and soft drinks. It is also used as a tabletop sweetener (for example, to sweeten a glass of iced tea). It is used in some medicines and vitamins.

Saccharin can be used as a substitute for sugar when you are baking. For best results, follow the package instructions for using it in your recipes.

Is saccharin safe?

Saccharin is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a food additive. This means that the FDA has reviewed scientific evidence to be sure that it is safe for use in foods and drinks.

You might remember that saccharin used to carry a warning label that said it was known to cause cancer in laboratory animals. However, there has been extensive research on the safety of this sugar substitute. In 2000, the U.S. government removed the requirement for a warning label on foods and drinks made with saccharin.

Stevia Sweeteners

What is stevia?

Stevia (two brand names: Pure Via and Truvia) is a plant-based sugar substitute that has no calories. The term “stevia” refers to Stevia rebaudiana, which is a South American plant. Only certain parts of the plant are sweet. Highly purified extracts from the leaves of the plant are called “steviol glycosides.” They are 200 to 400 times sweeter than sugar.

The term “stevia” can refer to the whole Stevia rebaudiana plant. However, in this article, “stevia” refers to the sugar substitute made from steviol glycosides. That is how the term is commonly used.

Stevia provides sweetness and enhances the flavor of food without adding the calories of sugar. Unlike sugar, it does not contribute to tooth decay. It also does not raise blood sugar levels. This may be helpful if you have diabetes and have to be careful about how much sugar you consume. Some people may notice an aftertaste when they consume stevia.

What products contain stevia?

Stevia is found in many processed foods and drinks, such as desserts, chewing gum, baked goods, candy, and yogurt. It is also used as a tabletop sweetener (for example, to sweeten a glass of iced tea).

Stevia can be used as a substitute for sugar when you are baking. For best results, follow the package instructions for using it in your recipes.

Is stevia safe?

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), steviol glycosides are “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). This means that qualified experts agree the available scientific evidence about this sugar substitute shows it is safe for use in foods and drinks.

Sucralose

What is sucralose?

Sucralose (brand name: Splenda) is a no-calorie sugar substitute. It is about 600 times sweeter than sugar.

Sucralose provides sweetness and enhances the flavor of food without adding the calories of sugar. Unlike sugar, it does not contribute to tooth decay. It also does not raise blood sugar levels. This may be helpful if you have diabetes and have to be careful about how much sugar you consume.

What products contain sucralose?

Sucralose is used in thousands of processed foods and drinks. Some examples include soft drinks, juices, sauces, syrups, candy, desserts, baked goods, and canned fruits. It is used in medicines, nutritional supplements, and vitamins. It is also used as a tabletop sweetener (for example, to sweeten a glass of iced tea).

Sucralose can be used in baking because it does not lose its sweet taste at high temperatures. For best results, follow the package instructions for using it in your recipes.

Is sucralose safe?

More than 110 studies have examined the safety of sucralose. It has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a food additive since 1998. This means that the FDA has reviewed scientific evidence to be sure that it is safe for use in foods and drinks.

According to the National Cancer Institute, there is no evidence that sucralose and other sugar substitutes approved for use in the United States cause cancer or other serious health problems. Medical research studies have shown that these sweeteners are safe for most people when used in moderation

Sugar Alcohols

What are sugar alcohols?

Despite their name, sugar alcohols aren’t sugar and they aren’t alcohol. They are carbohydrates that occur naturally in certain fruits and can also be manufactured. They get their name because they have a chemical structure similar to sugar and to alcohol. Sugar alcohols are also called “polyols.”

Sugar alcohols provide sweetness and enhance the flavor of food without adding as many calories as sugar. Unlike sugar, they do not contribute to tooth decay.

What products contain sugar alcohols?

Sugar alcohols are found in many processed foods, including hard candies, ice cream, puddings, baked goods, and chocolate. They can also be found in chewing gum, toothpaste, and mouthwash. They may be used in combination with another sugar substitute.

The most common sugar alcohols found in foods include:

By comparison, there are 4 calories per gram of sugar.

  • Erythritol – 0.2 calories per gram and 60% to 80% as sweet as sugar
  • Isomalt – 2 calories per gram and 45% to 65% as sweet as sugar
  • Lactitol – 2 calories per gram and 30% to 40% as sweet at sugar
  • Maltitol – 2.1 calories per gram and 90% as sweet as sugar
  • Mannitol – 1.6 calories per gram and 50% to 70% as sweet as sugar
  • Sorbitol – 2.6 calories per gram and 50% to 70% as sweet as sugar
  • Xylitol – 2.4 calories per gram and the same sweetness as sugar

How do I find sugar alcohols on a Nutrition Facts Label?

If a food is labeled as “sugar free,” the amount of sugar alcohol (in grams) must be listed. If the food only contains 1 sugar alcohol, the name of that specific sugar alcohol is listed. Sugar alcohols are easy to spot on the label because most of them end in “tol.” If the food contains more than 1 sugar alcohol, the term “sugar alcohols” is listed.

How do sugar alcohols affect blood sugar levels?

Your body doesn’t completely absorb sugar alcohols, so they don’t affect your blood sugar levels as much as sugar and other carbohydrates do.

If you have diabetes, it is important to consider sugar alcohols when you are managing your blood sugar level. Check the Nutrition Facts Label on a processed food to find the amount of sugar alcohol per serving (listed in grams). If a food has fewer than 5 grams of sugar alcohol per serving, it will likely have a very small effect on your blood sugar level.

Are sugar alcohols safe?

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), sugar alcohols are “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). This means that qualified experts agree the available scientific evidence shows they are safe for use in foods and drinks. However, you should consume them in moderation. Because sugar alcohols aren’t completely absorbed by your body, eating large amounts can lead to bloating and diarrhea.